In today’s industrial automation scenario, the most prominent technology associated with Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been that of edge computing. So, until recently, “edge” terminology didn’t even make any sense. But now, information technology (IT) networks are being connected to operation technology (OT) networks, thereby putting OT controllers at the edge—from the perspective of IT.
So, when someone is talking about edge computing in the OT world, they might be referring to a PLC, though they might not even be aware of what it does. Another possibility is that, when someone is referring to edge computing with respect to OT, they might mean a PC employed in the OT world, such as an industrial PC (IPC). And just as with all the shifting that has taken place with “edge” terminology recently, the same has occurred with IPCs. We all remember the time when futurists prognosticated the end of the PLC when IPCs came out. Did this revolution come to pass? No. But if you look deep into a PLC or DCS today, what you’ll find is that it is just a computer. It might not run Windows, but this is likely the reason why IPCs didn’t wipe out PLCs—the blue screen of death is just too risky in a production environment.
With all this said, there is one area in particular where the concept of edge computing makes sense beyond our existing control methods—and that is cloud connectivity. In other words, the Internet can be viewed as just another source of I/O. For example, a manufacturer with a cloud-connected PLC can take inputs from the Internet and make automated data-driven production decisions to gain a competitive advantage. What might those inputs be? It could be the weather forecast, for example, or the real-time price of oil.
In the recent ARC India Forum 2019, Sheetal Paralikar, Business Development Manager, Siemens spoke about how PLCs and DCSs are being integrated with edge computing and analytics to provide greater benefits to predictive maintenance across the value chain of industries.
Sheetal outlined the major criteria for any industry sector to compete in the market with process optimization by taking care of the five major aspects of Speed, Flexibility, Quality assurance, Efficiency, and Security.
- Ideally prepared for tomorrow’s requirements through the decoupled, flexible plant expansion to include new features, such as preventive maintenance.
- Centralized management of edge devices saves IT infrastructure costs
- Future-proof analysis of large amounts of data in production
- Expansion of automation components through digitalization functions with edge computing
- Analyze data locally on the field level on edge devices with edge apps and transfer data integrated to IT/cloud infrastructures for further processing
- Update plants throughout their entire life cycle (>15 years) with functional updates to edge devices
- Centrally controlled management of edge devices and edge apps via MindSphere (or similar cloud technology) -based back-end system
The intelligent gateway to connect the field level to the IT level/cloud:
Collecting and concentrating relevant production data of several sources
- Flexible connection to sensors/actors via serial communication,
- Ethernet or Arduino shields. Communicating with PLCs, drives and motors with e.g. PROFINET1 or OPC OA2
Protocol conversion/customer programmed control
- Data aggregation, conversion of different communication protocols
- Pre-processing programmed in high-level language e.g. Java, C++
Secure transfer to connected company IT systems or cloud applications
- Converted data can be transmitted to IT systems/cloud solutions using e.g. OPC UA, MQTT or AMQP2
Production monitoring, analysis and optimization
- Cloud based analytics to detect optimization potential
ARC welcomes the opportunity to speak with technology suppliers and users alike about your activities, thoughts, perspectives and questions on this exciting area. For further discussion or to provide feedback on this, please contact the author Jyoti Prakash at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Keywords: Siemens, Advanced Automation, Edge Computing, AI, Interoperability, Predictive maintenance.